Links I found interesting for 28-09-2012

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The Secret of the Paradiddle

As some of you know, a paradiddle is a drumming rudiment. The point of it is to practice even tempo and rhythm even if you are doing something a little counterintuitive with your hands. Rather than strike the drum Left-Right-Left-Right-Left-Right, the paradiddle goes Left-Right-Left-Left-Right-Left-Right-Right, repeated over and over, without a break, until, as Arthur Dent might have said, you’ve had enough.

If you haven’t done it before, try it now, with your fingers against the table if you don’t have a convenient drum and sticks. It’s surprisingly tricky to get an even beat. But you get a glow of achievement when you get near it; and you also now know what a paradiddle is.

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Links I found interesting for 26-09-2012

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Links I found interesting for 25-09-2012

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Culinary meme

Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you have had but got rid of.

I wonder how many pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese boards, cheese knives, electric woks, miniature salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers (bains marie), sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, fondue sets, healthy-grills, home smokers, tempura sets, tortilla presses, electric whisks, cherry stoners, sugar thermometers, food processors, bacon presses, bacon slicers, mouli mills, cake testers, pestle-and-mortars, and sets of kebab skewers languish dustily at the back of the nation's cupboards.

Not as much of a foodie as I thought I was!

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Links I found interesting for 23-09-2012

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September Books 20) The Banquo Legacy, by Andy Lane and Justin Richards

The authors of this Eighth Doctor novel, when on form, are among the best writers of the Who range. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed by this joint exercise of their talents, in which they attempt to jointly channel Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Marc Platt and a little H.P. Lovecraft, and the result doesn’t quite take off. Having two viewpoint characters who don’t quite know who the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion are is rather brave, but unfortunately I found them a bit interchangeable and at times implausible.

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September Books 19) Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination, by Stuart Murray

Rather an academic book, but very interesting, looking at the way in which autism is portrayed in culture: Rain Man and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, obviously, but many other examples are invoked including a couple from long before the formal definition of autism (Melville’s Bartleby, Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge). Murray uses these to warn us to be very wary of stereotypes which are reinforced by these popular narratives – of the autistic person as idiot, or savant (or both), or as family wrecker or tragic victim of a condition that can be “cured”. He very much reinforces my own prejudice that autism as an extraordinary window into what it is to be human, and punctures some lazy assumptions along the way.

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Links I found interesting for 22-09-2012

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Links I found interesting for 21-09-2012

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September Books 18) Dagger Magic, by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris

Well, I was warned. Starts with Irish coastguards discovering a long-wrecked Nazi submarine and being promptly murdered by sinister Asian monks. Then we shift across the water to Scotland where the police are aided by a psychic order of nobility linked to the Templars (and white so therefore not sinister). The first line of page 72 is, “At the heart of the Inner Planes lay the Akashic Records” – and at that point I decided I could read no further. Sorry, life is too short.

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September Books 17) Set Piece, by Kate Orman

The Doctor, Ace and Benny find themselves confusingly distributed between Akhenaten’s Egypt, Napoleon’s Egypt and 1871 Paris, facing implacable foes intent on dismembering the Doctor. It was all very vivid and enjoyable to read, and only now that I try to summarise it do I realise that the plot was really all over the place. Ace departs the series at the end of the book, and Sophie Aldred writes her character a farewell afterword; Big Finish was still several years in the future at this point…

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September Books 16) Blood Hunt, by “Jack Harvey” (Ian Rankin)

This standalone tale by Rankin is about a Scottish SAS veteran seeking revenge for his murdered brother (NB that brothers crop up a lot in Rankin’s plots). The story is supposedly about the global chemicals industry’s conspiracy to poison our food, which was even more topical back in 1995, but actually the real point is the central character’s quest for vengeance across America, England, France and Scotland, and how it unexpectedly ties into an old and forgotten personal feud. Exciting action stuff at the end, but presumably our hero would end up facing a significant jail term for the methods he uses to deal with his brother’s killers.

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September Books 15) The Vatican Rip, by Jonathan Gash

Haven’t been well enough to do anything but read today, and have therefore got through a number of books, the first being this tale of Lovejoy going to Rome to steal an antique table from the Vatican Museum. Lovejoy is at his most psychopathic here, gratuitously violent to bad guys and to women, and so utterly besotted with antiques as to be unaware of any other person’s feelings. Gash redeems the novel as a reading experience with loving detail on Rome, on the Vatican and on Lovejoy’s audacious plan to rip an exhibit from the tightly guarded city-state, and also by Lovejoy getting a mildly comical if emotionally improbable comeuppance at the end, after the bad guys have met their just deserts. But I think the narrator’s sheer unpleasantness makes it a weaker entry in the series.

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Links I found interesting for 17-09-2012

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All the Nebula winners

In April last year I was able to announce that I had finally completed doing a write-up on-line, be it ever so humble, of every winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Now that I have read Ursula Le Guin's Powers, I can say the same for the Nebula. Here is the full set of 49 winners in 47 years:

1966 Frank Herbert, Dune
1967 Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17
1967 Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
1968 Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection
1969 Alexei Panshin, Rite of Passage
1970 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
1971 Larry Niven, Ringworld
1972 Robert Silverberg, A Time of Changes
1973 Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves
1974 Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama
1975 Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
1976 Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
1977 Frederik Pohl, Man Plus
1978 Frederik Pohl, Gateway
1979 Vonda N. McIntyre, Dreamsnake
1980 Arthur C. Clarke, The Fountains of Paradise
1981 Gregory Benford, Timescape
1982 Gene Wolfe, The Claw of the Conciliator
1983 Michael Bishop, No Enemy But Time
1984 David Brin, Startide Rising
1985 William Gibson, Neuromancer
1986 Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
1987 Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead
1988 Pat Murphy, The Falling Woman
1989 Lois McMaster Bujold, Falling Free
1990 Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, The Healer's War
1991 Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea
1992 Michael Swanwick, Stations of the Tide
1993 Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
1994 Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
1995 Greg Bear, Moving Mars
1996 Robert J. Sawyer, The Terminal Experiment
1997 Nicola Griffith, Slow River
1998 Vonda McIntyre, The Moon and the Sun
1999 Joe Haldeman, Forever Peace
2000 Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents
2001 Greg Bear, Darwin's Radio
2002 Catherine Asaro, The Quantum Rose
2003 Neil Gaiman, American Gods
2004 Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark
2005 Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls
2006 Joe Haldeman, Camouflage
2007 Jack McDevitt, Seeker
2008 Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union
2009 Ursula K. Le Guin, Powers
2010 Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
2011 Connie Willis, Blackout/All Clear
2012 Jo Walton, Among Others

My favourites, in no particular order, were The Healer's War, The Left Hand of Darkness, Flowers for Algernon, Rendezvous With Rama, Parable of the Talents, Speed of Dark, Gateway, Doomsday Book and The Dispossessed.

I remain utterly unconvinced of the merits of The Quantum Rose, The Terminal Experiment, Darwin's Radio, Blackout/All Clear, and, though I realise mine is a minority view, Neuromancer and The Gods Themselves.

My next serial prize-winner reading project was foreshadowed in this poll.

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September Books 14) Powers, by Ursula Le Guin

A rather laid-back novel by Le Guin, tracing the life story of a slave boy with very limited powers of seeing into his own future. We are taken in detail through several carefully and intensely described settings – the slave-holding city of his boyhood, a rebel stronghold, his birth village and culture, a flight to freedom which draws from both Huck Finn and Uncle Tom, and finally an enlightened city of learning. She also lucidly shows the narrator’s gradually increasing consciousness of the evils of the world around him.

I’m frankly surprised that it won the 2009 Nebula for Best Novel. The only really sfnal bit is the narrator’s power of precognition, which isn’t actually of any use to him and doesn’t make much difference to the plot except to tell us when we have reached the end. There’s also a cartooney villain who exits the story rather unsatisfactorily. I would put this down as good but minor Le Guin.

The other novels nominated that year were: Little Brother, by Cory DoctorowCauldron, by Jack McDevitt; Brasyl, by Ian McDonaldMaking Money, by Terry PratchettSuperpowers, by David J. Schwartz. I have to say that of the four I have read from that list, Brasyl stands out by a long way as the obviously deserving winner. The McDevitt is on my shelf; I don’t think I have heard anything about Superpowers. It’s a good illustration of why the Nebula system so desperately needed to be changed (as I think happened the following year).

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September Books 13) Doctor Who (The Scripts): The Tomb of the Cybermen, by Gerry Davis & Kit Pedler

The script of what is still the best Cyberman story, published in 1989 at a time when the episodes were still lost. There’s a brief introductory interview with Davis (and a few words also with script editor Victor Pemberton) pointing out the roots of the story in Erich von Däniken, and the advantages of using very few sets and of not giving too much away. Though actually what struck me was that this is partially a reboot, the first time a season had opened without William Hartnell, and so there are a couple of background information moments – the Doctor’s age, and his thoughts about his family – that we don’t often get. Victoria also gets more action than usual, though Jamie is more comic relief and Doctor’s boyfriend. Interesting to approach it from a different angle.

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Wikipedia and Philip Roth

I linked a few days back to the Wikipedia discussion of Philip Roth's novel, The Human Stain – in summary, Roth objected to an inaccurate statement about which of his acquaintances he had based the main character on, found it difficult to get the change he wanted made, and went ballistic all over the media. I'm not a fan of Wikipedia's technocratic and dehumanised internal culture, and this seemed to me worth noting but no more.

However I came across this piece by the Wikimedia Foundation's Oliver Keyes yesterday, in which Keyes lays into Roth and into the mainstream media for believing Roth uncritically. The fact is that this has been a media disaster for Wikipedia, and it's just possible that Wikipiedia could have handled it better. I posted this comment on Keyes' piece, but I do not know if he will publish it.

I realise of course that the fuss is entirely Roth’s fault for failing to read up properly on Wikipedia’s policy and procedures, and writing about them only from the perspective of a grumpy old man who found it difficult to make the improvement he wanted to an article which he thought he was in a good position to know about.

However, the fact is that Wikipedia does not, anywhere, offer an answer to the question, How do I fix inaccurate information about me and/or my organisation on Wikipedia? In fact, Wikipedia’s answer to that question is, basically, “You can’t.”

So what do people do in that situation? Those with time and inclination will set up sock-puppet accounts to make the change anyway. The socially powerful will reach out to the media and demand that the change be made, as Roth has done. Those without time or power will shrug and walk away, determining that they won't bother to interact with Wikipedia in the future. Those behaviours are actually encouraged by the way Wikipedia works.

That's one thing. The other is that this affair has been a complete media win for Roth and a serious hit to Wikipedia's reputation. It is true that almost all the media coverage took Roth at his word and failed to give Wikipedia's side to the story. Whose fault is that? Perhaps there is nobody at Wikipedia charged with dealing with the press, and/or with with digging into the details of public disputes to ensure that Wikipedia's side of the story is given. Certainly a journalist wanting to call Wikipedia to get their side of the story would probably stop looking for a phone number or email contact after a few minutes of frustrated poking around the site. So since nobody is the press contact for Wikipedia, it is nobody's fault, I suppose.

Choices have consequences. Wikipedia has chosen to make it difficult for people to change inaccurate information about themselves, and that choice has the consequence that grumpy old men like Philip Roth will complain in public that his word isn't good enough, and that smarter people will undermine your system and use pseudonyms to make the changes they want anyway. Wikipedia has chosen not to bother engaging with the media on the assumption that any interested party can easily review the changelogs and the talk page discussions, and that has consequences when a journalist is writing to a deadline, and finds that one side of the story has provided them with a good narrative and the other hasn't.

Edited to add , below, and Keyes on his blog, point out that I am completly wrong about Wikipedia’s lack of visible press contacts. Note also a response from “A Wikipedia admin” making it clear that it is all the outside world’s fault and that Wikipedia is right.

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September Books 11-12) DW – The Gunfighters, by Donald Cotton; The Peacemaker, by James Swallow

I picked up some sort of bug on my travels last week, and though I struggled into work on Thursday and Friday have spent today pretty much horizontal and not really operating at top speed. So, I thought, why not prepare for this evening's episode by re-reading the two Doctor Who novels actually set in the Wild West; and found that they were about at the right level.

I said in my earlier post that Doctor Who – The Gunfighters, by Donald Cotton, is one of the best of the Target novelisations, and I'm glad to report that it stands up to re-reading; Cotton tells it in the character of journalist Ned Buntline, reporting Doc Holliday's account of events many years after the fact, and presents what is actually a fairly close mapping of the original script (including the "Doctor Who?" joke) in a passable pastiche of the appropriate style. It's funnier than the original, with some fairly minor characters given actual personalities – Johnny Ringo's fascination with classic literature, Phineas Clancy's desperate attempts at appropriate metaphors involving animals. On the other hand, there's almost no characterisation for the three regular characters, the exception being, oddly enough, Dodo, of whom we discover that "she had learned all about poker at her finishing school". Here, the Doctor actually atrts the OK Corral shootout by accident (in the original he is far fom the scene). I wrongly reported in my previous write-up that the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" is omitted; it is all here, in fact, and that's fine with me.

I realised as I picked up The Peacemaker, by James Swallow, that I had actually only listened to a seriously abridged audio version rather than reading the actual book previously. The plot is the least exciting part of it – it's basically an alien intrusion into a historical setting, which has been pretty much the standard Who historical story since The Time Warrior. However, the fact that one of the competing alien presences has become associated with a local healer allows some development of Martha's own background and ambitions, and to a lesser extent on the Doctor himself as healer. And the book gains in terms of drama by restricting the alien threat to just the local area, and eventually to just the Doctor and Martha. There are also lots of continuity references both to New Who and to appropriate bits of Old Who – and there is mention of Battle Tardises, which is a rare intrusion of a Big Finish invention into New Who, though the context is the Doctor's very New Who memory of the Time War. The abridgement, as far as I remember, omitted a rather silly opening chapter set on a far future Hollywood planet.

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters has no non-white characters at all, as far as we can tell, and fails the Bechdel test (Kate and Dodo do have several conversations, but always about a man, which is an interesting illustration of the point of the test). The Peacemaker has Martha and a single Native American character (who gets killed off). It passes the Bechdel test with a conversation between Martha and the local schoolteacher about local history and fashion, at the start of Chapter 3.

There is considerable variation in the popularity and ratings of these and the other Western Who stories between LibraryThing and Goodreads, though I guess this reflects small smaple size more than anything else:

LibraryThing Goodreads
total owners avge rating total reviews avge rating
The Peacemaker 156 3.51 376 3.62
Doctor Who – The Gunfighters 102 3.00 37 3.43
The Runaway Train 19 2.56 178 3.46
A Town Called Fortune 8 3.67 7 2.57
Freakshow 3 3.00 13 3.00

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West with Who

Doctor Who stories with Western settings:

The Gunfighters (TV, 1966) – the First Doctor has a toothache and visits a dentist who turns out to be Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Arizona. (Doc Holliday and Kate were the last historical figures to appear on Who until George Stephenson in 1985.)

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters (novelisation, 1986). Listed separately because it is one of the best of the Target novelisations, telling the story largely from Doc Holliday's point of view on his deathbed years later.

A Town Called Fortune (Big Finish audio, 2010). The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe visit a town where the Doctor appears to be wanted for murder.

The Peacemaker (Novel and audiobook, 2007). The Tenth Doctor and Martha find themselves trying to thwart an alien invasion in the Old West.

And of course tonight's offering…

Edited to add: Thanks to jogging my memory I should also include:

Freakshow (Big Finish audio, 2010, available in this set). Turlough gets kidnapped and displayed as a carnival exhibit.

The Runaway Train (BBC audiobook, 2010): The Eleventh Doctor and Amy have to prevent global catastrophe and catch a train. Also has a neat time paradox (foreshadowing The Pandorica Opens).

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Links I found interesting for 15-09-2012

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